How Can Anxiety Cause Back Pain?

How Anxiety Leads to Back Pain in Los Angeles, CA

It’s not unusual to become stressed or increasingly anxious if you’re experiencing back pain that impacts your personal and professional life. However, you may not be aware that anxiety could be the reason you are experiencing back pain in the first place. In fact, the Anxiety and Depression Association of America points out that back pain is more common in people with anxiety and mood disorders than those without these emotional health issues. Here’s a closer look at the connection between anxiety and back pain.

Makes Physical Symptoms More Noticeable

People with chronic anxiety often have very real physical sources of back pain. Prolonged and recurring stress can contribute to the inflammation, muscle tension, and joint stiffness that makes pain from things like a herniated disc, bone spur, or compressed nerve more noticeable.

Contributes to Unhealthy Habits

Being constantly worried and stressed sometimes results in habits or lifestyle choices that affect soft tissues and nerves in and around the spine and weaken back-supporting muscle groups. For example, anxiety sometimes leads to smoking as an outlet for managing stress, and the chemicals in cigarettes have been linked to reduced blood flow, which can affect how nutrients get to the spine and accelerate the wear and tear associated with degenerative disc disease. Other unhealthy habits associated with anxiety that may also contribute to back pain include:

  • Poor posture
  • Not getting regular exercise
  • Prolonged periods of inactivity
  • Excessive alcohol consumption

Lowers Pain Tolerance

It can be difficult to treat patients with chronic anxiety and back pain since stress may lower their pain tolerance. Decreased pain tolerance can also increase sensitivity to the side effects associated with some of the medications typically prescribed for patients with back pain.

Increases the Odds of Developing Chronic Conditions

Individuals with long-term anxiety issues often have chronic conditions that result in or worsen back pain. For instance, arthritis can damage joints and accelerate cartilage deterioration, which in turn may affect joints of the spine (facet joints) and contribute to inflammation.

Treating Anxiety and Back Pain

Some of the treatment recommendations for anxiety overlap with what’s often suggested for people with back pain, such as getting regular exercise and focusing on better eating and sleeping habits. Effectively treating anxiety often eases back pain. Treatments for anxiety that may also be effective for spine-related issues include:

  • Relaxation techniques
  • Antidepressants*
  • Stretching and exercising
  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy
  • Alternative treatments like yoga, acupuncture, and massage therapy

*While the reason isn’t clear, some medications that treat depression are also effective for back pain management.

Anxiety is a double-edged sword. It can contribute to back pain, and it can also make existing spine-related discomfort worse. In some instances, it can even slow down the healing process after an injury or spine surgery. Los Angeles patients should be aware there is no one-size-fits-all approach to treating either anxiety or back pain. However, finding the right combination of treatments for both anxiety and back pain often results in much-appreciated physical and emotional relief.

For many patients with chronic back pain, the ideal solution is minimally invasive back surgery. Los Angeles residents who want to find relief for their pain should reach out to The Spine Institute. Call 310-828-7757 today to schedule an in-person evaluation.

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